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7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It

7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It

For most of us, the experience of studying for an exam can be captured in one word: panic. You’ve got 18 hours, exhausted, and sitting there staring at an equations sheet full of gibberish. Whyyy? Why didn’t I start earlier?

Believe it or not, there are forces acting against you, pulling you away from starting early enough so that you can comfortably learn new material. Here are 7 of the most insidious reasons why you don’t start early, and what you can do about it.

1. You’re anticipating hard work

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    Procrastination is generally viewed as this guilt-ridden character defect shared almost universally by all students. The problem is, this is exactly what we should expect to happen from an evolutionary perspective.

    Humans are known to be cognitive misers: we conserve mental resources whenever possible, especially when facing tasks not viewed as “essential to our survival.”

    In other words, we put off studying until the last minute because (1) we know the work is hard and will require a lot of mental energy, and (2) until there’s the threat of actually failing the exam (and therefore potentially being humiliated publicly) we’re not in enough emotional pain to motivate us to start studying.

    Additionally, when your brain anticipates multiple outcomes that are all viewed as “painful” (the pain of studying vs. the pain of failing out of college) you become immobilized, unable to choose the lesser of two evils, and push off the work even further.

    Schedule in time for yourself first and then fill in the gaps with study time.

    As Niel Fiore discusses in bestselling classic, The Now Habit, part of the reason you procrastinate is because you see no end in site.

    Think of the difference between a 100 yard dash and a marathon. In the first case you’re able to give maximum effort because you can see the finish line and know it will be over soon. The marathon runner is not so lucky. They know there’s a long road ahead filled with pain and exhaustion, and subconsciously conserve their effort to ensure they can make it through all 26.2 miles.

    This is all to say, if you know you get to go hang out in your buddy’s dorm room and goof off for an hour after you study, you’re much more likely to want to invest that energy.

    As a side benefit, you end up taking advantage of Parkinson’s Law. Because your work expands to fill the time allotted, by scheduling less time for studying, you actually become more productive and focused.

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    2. You’re sleep deprived

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      Who in college isn’t pounding the caffeine?

      Students who force themselves through weeks upon weeks of 4-6 hour sleep nights, are significantly deteriorating two aspects of their mental performance critical to studying for exams: motivation and vigilance.

      Studies show that poor sleep negatively impacts motivation. But really, no one needs a study to tell them how much worse your outlook on life is when you’re low on sleep.

      And vigilance, the ability to maintain concentrated attention over prolonged periods of time, is also significantly reduced during a period of either acute (staying up all night studying), or chronic (cutting sleep short for multiple days) sleep deprivation.

      Set yourself an end-of-the-day alarm.

      Yes, studying more consistently for shorter chunks will allow you to spread it over a longer period of time; therefore, preventing the need to deprive yourself of sleep just to get your coursework done. But really, it’s a psychological issue.

      There are a million things we’d rather stay up and do, than go right to bed after a full day of classes, only to have to get up and do the same thing over again. This is a chicken/egg problem: if I don’t get sleep I procrastinate studying, but if I go to bed I’ll just have to get up and study. Again, lose-lose. We need to break the cycle.

      Set yourself an alarm. But not in the morning. Set your alarm for 45 minutes before when you should get to sleep and allow yourself to sleep for a full 8 hours. If you adhere to that you’ll be surprised how many hours of free time seem to materialize.

      Study time + free time + sleep = happy and successful students.

      3. You have a false sense of security

      Photo credit: funnfun.in

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        You may think you’re being a diligent student, sitting there in the lecture, listening intently, copying down page after page of notes from the professor. You might even be following along and raise your hand here and there. But there’s a big difference between feeling like you understand something, and actually being able to reproduce it on a test.

        This is what we call passive learning, and it’s the best way to ensure that you’ll spend a lot of time and effort trying to learn new material, without actually being able to retain any of it.

        Quiz yourself.

        Don’t be fooled by your professor’s overly logical explanations. This dude already knows the material, so it’s easy for him to explain it in a way that others find understandable. The real challenge is whether or not you can do the same.

        If you’re wondering if you actually understand something, quiz yourself. Or better yet, explain it to someone (or yourself, but be warned: people tend to stare).

        As Einstein liked to say, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

        By routinely quizzing yourself, you’ll get a dose of reality of whether you actually know the material or not, instead of what most students do: assume they know it until the night before the test, when they proceed to freak out because they can’t do any of the practice problems.

        4. Not all study time is created equal

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          Fact: seven hours of studying over 7 days is much more effective (more learning per time spent) for understanding new material than 7 hours of studying in one chunk. This is especially true for technical courses with new jargon you have to internalize.

          Chunk your study time.

          The brain uses a ton of energy (20% of our resting metabolic rate), and there’s only so much you can expend per day. To maximize your retention of new material, you want to take advantage of both active learning and recovery.

          Because the brain consolidates new neural pathways during sleep, particularly during REM sleep, the more sleep cycles you intersperse between your study hours, the more likely it is that you will retain the material and be able to whip it out on test day.

          This also allows you to take advantage of spaced repetition. Instead of having to constantly review your material to keep it in the forefront of your memory, you can follow a cycle of ever-increasing time intervals between review sessions (the “forgetting curve”), decreasing the overall amount of time needed to re-learn material you might have forgotten from the beginning of the semester when the final rolls around.

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          5. The planning fallacy

          Humans systematically overestimate what can be accomplished in the short-term, and underestimate what can be accomplished in the long-term.

          Ironically (and sadly), we only have this problem evaluating our own tasks – providing a pretty accurate picture of how long things will take when evaluating someone else’s situation objectively.

          “Dude I’ve got this Calc final covered. Just need a couple days before to go over my notes. But you’re screwed for your Orgo class – better head to the library now or you’re never gonna pass.”

          Use the 50% rule.

          Estimate as conservatively as you can, how much time it’s going to take to study for your exam, assuming you start early and work consistently.

          Done?

          Okay. Now add 50% to that estimate.

          This will give you a more accurate picture of how much time you really need to allocate to starting studying.

          6. You think you have more study time than you do

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            Pull up your Sunday schedule. What do you see?

            Oh looks like I’ve got a big chunk of free time from 4pm to 10pm. Perfect, I’ll just squeeze in 5 or 6 hours of studying and then call it a night.

            Try again. It’s more like 2-3 hours.

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            This is another type of planning mistake: overestimating how much productive time we can extract from any given period.

            Things we tend to forget: we need to eat; we need to sleep; there will be interruptions (yea right like you’re actually going to shut off your phone).

            But another thing we fail to account for: the body goes through 90-120 minute activity cycles (called the Ultradian Rhythm). So even though you may be sitting there, highlighting your textbook for 3 hours straight, you really only have the ability to absorb material for 1.5 to 2 hours before you need a period of rest.

            Cut your estimated hours in half.

            If you think you have 8 hours on Sunday after the game to study, forget it. You actually have 4 or less when you take out time for eating, breaks, and normal daily activities.

            7. You can’t get motivated or focused

            A lot of us tend to sit around and wait…

            Waiting for the wave of motivation to strike us to finally get started on the homework assignment due in 24 hours, or studying for the midterm.

            Here’s the problem: motivation comes and goes, but the demands of school and learning and everyday life don’t. And if you’re relying on your motivation to keep you focused, everything you’re doing is going to be in a perpetual state of lateness and last-minute-ness, because there’s never enough motivation to go around.

            Focus on the process, with the end in mind.

            Why are you in school? Why do you want a degree? Get clear on exactly what your motivations are.

            But thinking about the future is not enough. That vision of the future that drives your emotional intensity needs to be linked to your daily activities. (e.g. “Each day I study for Calculus brings me one step closer to being a doctor and making a difference in people’s lives.”)

            What is the one set of activities each day that will virtually guarantee success in your coursework?

            And what can you do to organize your day, set up incentives, quit things that don’t matter, etc. to virtually guarantee you will do that one set of activities day in and day out, despite motivation?

            Featured photo credit: UBC Learning Commons via flickr.com

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            Last Updated on June 29, 2020

            How Does Setting Goals Lead to Success?

            How Does Setting Goals Lead to Success?

            As well as being the founder of Lifehack, I also help people on a one-to-one basis through life coaching.

            I’ve been doing this for more than 10 years now and have helped hundreds of clients reevaluate their lives and turn inertia into progress and failure into success.

            A common theme I’ve noticed with many of my clients is that they don’t have any definite goals to aim towards.

            This has always surprised me, as goal setting is frequently recommended by self-improvement gurus, performance coaches, and business leaders. It’s also something that I learned at university and have implemented successfully in my life ever since.

            If you’re similar to the majority of my life coaching clients and you don’t have any definite goals to aim for, then you’re missing out on what is probably the most powerful personal success technique on the planet.

            The good news is—you’ve come to the right place for help with this.

            In this article, I’ll explain exactly what goal-setting is and how you can put it into action in your life. As you’ll discover, it’s a key that can open many doors for you.

            An Introduction to Goal Setting

            Goals can be big, small, short-term, long-term, essential, or desirable. But they all share one thing: They will give you something to aim for.

            This is important. As just like a ship without a destination, if you have no goals, you’ll end drifting aimlessly.

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            Goals give you purpose. They also give you drive and enthusiasm. In other words—they make you feel alive!

            If you’ve never spent time setting goals before, then here’s what I recommend you to do:

            1. Take some time to evaluate all areas of your life (health, career, family, etc.).
            2. Determine which of these areas need a boost.
            3. Think of ways in which to achieve this (for example, if you want to boost your health, you could eat less and exercise more).
            4. Set some definite goals that you would like to achieve.
            5. Write down these goals, including the date you want to accomplish them by.

            Now, before you get started on the above, I want to make one thing clear: Goals are not wishful thinking!

            By this, I mean that while your goals should be ambitious, they shouldn’t be unrealistic or verging into fantasy land.

            For example, wanting to be promoted at work would be a realistic goal while wanting to be President of the United States might not be. (Of course, feel free to prove me wrong!)

            If you’re new to the world of goal setting, then I’d recommend you start with easy-to-achieve goals. These could be things such as eating a healthy breakfast, walking more, taking regular breaks from your screen, and sleeping early.

            These simple goals might take you a month or so to achieve, including making the daily practices a habit.

            Once you’ve successfully accomplished these goals, you’ll find your self-confidence grows, and you’ll be ready to set yourself some bigger goals.

            Here are a few examples that you might want to choose or adapt to your personal circumstances:

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            • Run a marathon
            • Buy a new car
            • Learn a new language
            • Travel around the world
            • Change career
            • Retire early
            • Write a book

            I’m sure you can think of many more things that you would like to achieve. As the famous Shakespeare line neatly states: “The world is your oyster!”

            Now, the trick with big goals (as I’ll show in an example shortly) is to break them down into small, bite-sized chunks. This means you’ll have a big end goal, with smaller goals (sometimes referred to as objectives) helping you to gradually achieve your main aim.

            When you do this, you’ll make big goals more achievable. Plus, you’ll have an easy way to track how far along the road to your goal you are at any given point in time.

            Let’s see this in action…

            Going from an Idea to a Global Success

            Everything starts with an idea.

            And there appears to be no shortage of good ideas in the world. But there is a shortage of people willing to put these ideas into action!

            This is the essential step that will move you from being a dreamer to an achiever.

            Back in 2005, when I first had the idea for Lifehack, I really only considered it to be a platform to record some of my productivity and self-improvement techniques. I’d developed these during my time at university and as a Software Engineer at Redhat.

            However, based on the number of views and positive feedback I received on the first few articles, I quickly realized that Lifehack had the potential to be a popular and successful website—a site that could help transform the lives of people from all across the world.

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            It was at that point that I decided to set some goals in place for Lifehack.

            The way I did this was to set specific targets for different areas of the business:

            1. Number of articles published
            2. Amount of time spent writing and promoting the articles
            3. Number of new readers
            4. Number of new email subscribers
            5. Revenue generated from ads

            For each of the above, I set weekly, monthly, and yearly targets. These targets were realistic but were also ambitious. In addition, I wrote down the necessary steps to take to achieve each target within the specified time frame.

            This goal setting had a powerful impact on my motivation and energy levels. Because I could clearly see what needed to be done to achieve each goal, I found a purpose to my tasks that made them exciting to complete. Each small target achieved took me closer to accomplishing the bigger goals.

            For example, my initial goals for writing articles were for just five a week, which equated to 20 per month and just over 100 per year. However, as I dedicated more and more time to Lifehack, I found I was able to exceed my initial goals.

            This led me to increase the numbers. Of course, there’s a limit to how many articles one person can write. So when the readership began to exponentially increase, I started to hire other writers to help me out with the site’s content.

            From my initial goal of just over 100 articles per year, I’ve used goal setting to help Lifehack publish more than 35,000 articles to date. This is now the largest collection of original self-development articles in the world.

            And in terms of readership—this has skyrocketed from a few dozen in 2005 to several million in 2020.

            And of course, I have many new goals for Lifehack, including expanding our range of online courses.

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            My original goal has always remained the same though: To change people’s lives for the better.

            Goal Setting Can Transform Your Life

            If you haven’t yet experienced the incredible power of goal setting, then now’s the time to get started.

            Build a definite picture of what you want to accomplish, break it down into small, achievable steps, and then start taking action!

            You’ll be able to change all areas of your life using this method, including boosting your health, improving your relationships, and transforming your career. You may also want to use goal setting to start a new hobby or plot a path to a prosperous and peaceful retirement.

            So please don’t wait for success to drop in your lap (which it is highly unlikely to do). Instead, decide on exactly what you want, then make a plan to get it. This is the secret to lifelong success.

            Legendary motivational speaker and author Paul J. Meyer said it well:

            “Goal setting is the most important aspect of all improvement and personal development plans. It is the key to all fulfillment and achievement.”

            Final Thoughts

            Now, let me leave you with five questions that will help you think about your future:

            1. What would you like to be doing in 3, 5, and 7 years?
            2. What things make you happiest?
            3. How can you share your knowledge and experience?
            4. Who can help you achieve your goals?
            5. What would you like to be your legacy?

            Take plenty of time to think about these questions. When the answers come, you’ll be able to start building a picture of how you’d like your life to be—and what goals you need to set to make this picture a reality.

            More Tips on Setting Goals

            Featured photo credit: Jealous Weekends via unsplash.com

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